The Millpond Tavern was the home of the Galvanized Jazz Band for 25 years, starting on the first Sunday of January in 1971 when we brought Louis Nelson up from New Orleans and Tommy Benford from New York to kick off the regular Sunday series with a full seven-piece band including Fred Vigorito on cornet, Noel Kaletsky on clarinet and saxophones, Bill Sinclair on piano, Mark Finks on banjo, and Art Hovey on tuba and bass. Our recording with Nelson and Benford was made on that same weekend, and is now available on CD as BCD-467.
As mentioned in the previous article, we went back to a trio format with washboard in the ensuing weeks, but as we gradually expanded the band our audience expanded proportionally. (Bringing Fred and Noel back into the regular lineup resulted in substantial increases.) Also around that time the Connecticut “blue laws” were changed, so we were able to play from 6:30 to 10:30 PM on Sundays.
In April of 1971 we began trying out trombonists at the Millpond. At that time there weren’t many suitable candidates in our area, but Noel remembered the name of a guy from Rhode Island he had heard a few years before and we gave him a call. His first Sunday with us at the Millpond was the day we got back from the New Orleans festival described in our previous article. Having been up all night and having traveled all day, we were a bit groggy; I remember thinking that this new fellow probably used to play pretty well. We were all in better condition when we had him back a couple of weeks later. His name was George Masso and he quickly became our number-one trombonist.
Formerly with the Jimmy Dorsey band, George was living in Rhode Island and commuting to a teaching job in Storrs, Connecticut. After working with us for about year on Thursdays at the Holiday Inn in New London and occasional Sundays at the Millpond he took a sabbatical from the day job to go on tour with Benny Goodman. During his subsequent years as a top-flight trombonist in Manhattan he continued to work with us as often as his busy schedule would permit during our entire 25 years at the Millpond.
Always a perfect gentleman, he never complained about our occasional wrong chords or the trite songs that we sometimes chose to play, he never tried to be the big star of the show, and never showed up late for a job. When we asked if he would be willing to sully his name by being on an LP recording of the band he said “I would be honored.” The best part of that LP was George’s trombone work, but there was also a beautiful photo of the Millpond Tavern on its jacket. Some of George’s later performances with the GJB are now available on CD. All of our CDs are available from galvanizedjazz.com and are described in the “recordings” section that website, with downloadable sample tracks.
One of our first outside jobs as a full band was a private party at a gated community near Danbury, CT, with Tommy Benford on drums, Roy Rubinstein on trombone, and Mark Finks on banjo. I drove some of the band members to the gig in my van. Mister Benford was in the back seat, and when he saw that we were approaching the gate he shouted, “hold on, let me get under this blanket!” Thankfully, his ingrained caution turned out to be unnecessary on that occasion.
By then the seven-piece “Galvanized Jazz Band” usually included Bob Bequillard on drums and special guest trombonists every Sunday. In addition to George Masso we often featured several others during the early Millpond years:
Roy Rubinstein took up trombone as a youth in England after hearing Chris Barber. We first met Roy around 1970 or 1971 when he was working with Bill Barnes & Joe Ashworth in the “Southampton Dixie Racing & Clambake Society.” Roy’s day job was nuclear physics at Brookhaven Lab on Long Island, NY. In 1973 he moved to Chicago’s Fermilab, where he recently retired but remains active on trombone with his own “Chicago Hot Six.”
“Porky” Cohen studied trombone with Miff Mole, toured with Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw, and was working in Rhode Island with Tony Tomaso’s Jewels of Dixieland when he started working with us. On one of our most unusual gigs he rode with our full band in a rented van on a seven-hour trip to northern New England, entertaining us most of the way with stories of his days on the road. On the way back that night he rested his chin on his chest and slept soundly while the rest of us tried to find comfortable positions. Eventually he became the sole trombonist touring with Roomful of Blues.
Conrad Janis is well-known as an actor on Broadway and Hollywood. While in California under contract with 20th Century Fox in the late 1940s he spent a lot of his free time at the Beverly Caverns in Los Angeles listening to Kid Ory’s New Orleans band. When he “started fooling with” a trombone that Rudi Blesh had given him he found that he was already familiar with much of Ory’s repertoire. In New York in the 1950s and ’60s he worked at Central Plaza, Jimmy Ryan’s and the Metropole. In the early 1970s he often drove to Connecticut to do a 4-hour job with us for $50. Back in California after 1973, he founded the “Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.”
Born on an Indian reservation in Arizona, Russell Moore first encountered jazz while living with an uncle in Illinois. As a teenager he frequented Chicago jazz clubs, and by the mid-1930s he was a major jazz artist. By the early 1960s he had recorded and toured with Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. He was a frequent guest at the Millpond for more than 12 years. The Millpond crowd always enjoyed his powerful vocal renditions of such tunes as “Some Day, Sweetheart,” “How Long,” and “You’re So Ugly.”
We also had guest drummers occasionally to help us out when Bob Bequillard was not available. Buzzy Drootin joined us on one night at the Millpond early in the 1970s. Ed Stockmal got his start with us just out of high school and was our regular drummer for a few years during the late 1970s. Ed eventually became the regular drummer with Joe Hanlon’s Bearcat Jazz Band, and Bob Bequillard returned to the GJB in 1981.
For many years the Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club (“Conntrad” for short) sponsored concerts by bands from out of state. In the late 1970s they began inviting the GJB to be featured occasionally, with guests. One of our first ConnTrad concerts was in March of 1978 with trombonists George Masso and Jack Gale. Jack was playing in pit orchestras for Broadway shows and teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, but once in a while he would take a night off to join us at the Millpond. He and George had never met, but they both instinctively knew how to work together in an unrehearsed traditional jazz band. One of George’s feature numbers was “’Lassus Trombone”. Jack was not familiar with that old march by Henry Fillmore, but after listening to first section he jumped in on the repeat and played it flawlessly one octave under George.
I also remember doing a ConnTrad concert with Cliff Leeman on drums, another with “Frog” Joseph and Freddie Kohlman from New Orleans, and one with Joel Helleny and Wayne Wright. Helleny learned piano from his mother as a child but settled on trombone by age seven. After graduating from the University of Illinois and working with various bands in Chicago he moved to New York City and became a frequent guest with the GJB at the Millpond whenever he wasn’t working with Roy Eldridge, Mel Lewis, or Benny Goodman. He was a featured soloist on the soundtrack to the 1984 movie The Cotton Club, and did recordings and jazz festivals with more big names than we have room to list. Helleny can be heard with us on the Les Paul CD (GJB 3/9/86) and also on Fred’s feature CD, GJB-5/29/88.
Over the years many other special guests were added to our list, and each of them brought a different style to the band. Jazz scholar Tex Wyndham wrote about seven distinct styles of classic jazz, but after working with us a few times he was unable to place us in any of those pigeon-holes.
On most Sundays at least half of the Millpond crowd members were “regulars,” loyal fans who came almost every week and often arrived early to claim their regular tables. If one of them missed a Sunday others would telephone them the next day to see if they were ok. Sometimes on warm summer nights the regulars organized an after-hours party in the Millpond parking lot; everybody brought food and drinks and tables to put them on. The merriment continued by the light of the moon until the wee hours.
Occasionally we had visitors from other countries. For example, one night a couple from France dropped in. They had arrived in New York on their way to New Orleans, had taken a train to New Haven and asked a cab driver to take them to the Millpond, which they had seen mentioned in the Mississippi Rag. Although they spoke almost no English they had a wonderful time. One of the regulars drove them back to the railroad station in time for the last train back to New York. A few weeks later we received a case of fine wine from their vineyard in France.
Another European visitor sent us a small national flag, which we hung over the bandstand. Soon others did the same; eventually the place began to resemble a colorful United Nations postcard. One group from eastern Europe actually risked arrest by hand-sewing a set of their forbidden national flags and smuggling them out from behind the iron curtain.
In 1980 we began producing cassette recordings of the GJB, using material recorded live at the Millpond. Our first one featured Herb Gardner. Herb worked with virtually all of the classic jazz musicians in the New York City area, including Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa, Red Allen, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy Rushing, Doc Cheatham, Max Kaminsky and even Wingy Manone. Herb is also fantastic on piano and vocals. He was a frequent guest with the GJB through all of our years at the the Millpond and into the 21st century. (Visit Herb online at herb-gardner.com.)
In August of 1980 we made our first appearance at the DownEast Jazz Festival in Camden, Maine. Our special guests at the Camden festival were Herb Gardner and Jane Campedelli. Jane is without a doubt the finest vocalist doing our kind of music today; she and Noel had been working with John Sheehan’s “Heritage Jazz Band” for a few years at the Sticky Wicket near Boston, and when we heard her with that band at a ConnTrad concert she knocked us out. The Camden festival was Jane’s first appearance with the GJB, and we have had the pleasure of her company on many occasions since then.
By then Mark Finks had moved back to Maine, and Joel Schiavone had become our regular banjo man. Joel grew up in New Haven, where he received his first banjo at the age of twelve as a gift from his mother. During the 1960s Joel created a chain of 13 sing-along nightclubs throughout the US and Europe called “Your Father’s Moustache.” Those clubs became a training ground for many of the finest dixieland musicians in the country. After the early seventies Joel confined most of his mischief to the New Haven area as the GJB’s regular Sunday emcee and banjoist. The rest of Joel’s time has been spent rebuilding old neighborhoods and helping to preserve Dixieland jazz in Connecticut. Joel was the CEO of the Great Connecticut JazzFest for several years, and in 2005 was indicted into Oklahoma’s International Banjo Hall of Fame.
Our second cassette featured Nick Carella. Nick worked with Louis Prima, Les Brown, Joe Marsala, Adele Girard, Marty and Teddy Napoleon, Billy Butterfield, Wild Bill Davison, and Roy Eldridge. He was a frequent guest on trombone and vocals with the GJB through all of the Millpond years, and is featured on two of our CDs. Nick especially enjoyed the nights when Wayne Wright joined us on guitar.
On February 1, 1981, we celebrated our tenth anniversary of Sunday jazz at the Millpond by bringing Conrad Janis back from Hollywood. He said he had spent some time practicing his trombone in the restroom during his flight back east. Millpond regulars decorated the room for that occasion, and extra tables and chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd. We could have been in big trouble if the local fire marshal had heard about it; we were packed in so tightly that when we were presented with gifts and bouquets of flowers for our patient spouses there was no place to put them down.
In January of 1982 we celebrated our eleventh Millpond anniversary by bringing in Roy Rubinstein and Sammy Rimington for their first time working together. Some of that night’s highlights can be heard on our Just A Little While CD, (GJB-1/17/82). Sammy had spent five years with Ken Colyer’s band during the 1950s before coming to the USA in 1965. After spending some time in New Orleans he moved to Connecticut to join Bill Bissonette’s Easy Riders and December Bands, as well as with the young Galvanized Washboard Band. Rimington’s main influences were George Lewis on clarinet and Captain John Handy on alto sax.
In the summer of 1982 David Greenberg created the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival with considerable help from his Clinipad corporation. The festival site was the Valley Railroad station in Essex, from which steam trains carry visitors up and down the Connecticut River. David invited the GJB to perform, but we had to turn him down because we were already committed to our third DownEast Jazz Festival in Maine on that same weekend. We did participate in the Great Connecticut Festival every summer after that, along with some of the finest bands in the world, including the South Frisco Jazz Band, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys, the Salty Dogs, the Black Dogs, and Paris Washboard. Eventually the Great CT festival outgrew the Railroad site and moved to several other locations; we played at all of them. When the folks in Essex decided to start their own annual “Hot Steamed Jazz Festival” we had the honor of participating there as well.
In February of 1983 Jane Campedelli and Conrad Janis returned as guests for a two-night anniversary celebration at the Millpond. A cassette recording of that event went back to California with Conrad, where it eventually ended up in the hands of the Hot Frog Jazz Band. Their recorded version of “The Brahms Cradle Song,” released some time later, is remarkably similar to the one on that tape. I call that the sincerest form of flattery!
Our 13th anniversary, early in 1984, was an even bigger affair. On Saturday night we staged a concert at New Haven’s Palace Theater, which had just been refurbished by Joel Schiavone. Half of the show featured the “Fabulous Farquahr,” as the McGowan brothers’ popular group was called, and the other half was ours, with Herb Gardner on trombone. Both groups were combined for the grand finale. We had known the Farquahrs since the Rockinghorse days; their repertoire was an interesting mix of Irish folk music, bluegrass, rock, and comedy. Joel announced that it was the first time the Palace had been sold out for a traditional jazz event since Louis Armstrong’s appearance there in 1957. On the following night we repeated the show at the Millpond.
For our 14th anniversary Conrad Janis and guest vocalist Carol Leigh joined us for a two-night extravaganza at the Millpond on March 2 & 3, 1985. A CD recording of the occasion (GJB 3/85) is now available. Well-known for her work with the Salty Dogs, Carol was more than just a singer. She could improvise and make an unrehearsed band swing. On “Just a Little While” she even started the whole audience singing a riff, and then improvised over it. That recording still takes my breath away.
Carol was also with us at a 3-night affair in Chicago for a Phillips Medical convention. We were housed at the Parker House, one of Chicago’s oldest and finest hotels, and we performed in the Stock Exchange room in the Chicago Art Institute. The expanded band included Carol, Herb Gardner, Bill Lezotte on banjo, and Dirck Spicer on vibraphone. We didn’t know it at the time, but Russ Whitman (Carol’s husband and a great reed man) was in Chicago but could not get in to our shows.
During the winter of 1985-86 the Les Paul Trio appeared on TV, performing mostly tunes that we knew well. Wayne Wright was on rhythm guitar, and he had already worked with us several times. Fred asked Wayne to see if we could bring Les Paul to the Millpond. On March 8 & 9, 1986 we celebrated the 15th Millpond Anniversary with the Les Paul Trio with Wayne Wright and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, along with Jane Campedelli, Joel Helleny and Craig Grant. A CD recording from those two nights (GJB 3/9/86) is now available.
Another big Millpond event was May 22, 1988, when we brought Sammy Rimington back and teamed him up with pianist David Paquette and trombonist Matt Finders. A compilation of material recorded on that memorable night is now available on CD as GJB 5/22/88. David Paquette was born and raised in Milford, Connecticut. His parents were strong supporters of traditional jazz and active members of ConnTrad; whenever the club brought musicians up from New Orleans they were guests at the Paquette house. Late-night jam sessions often occurred in the basement, where David’s first piano acquired a great collection of autographs done with a black magic marker. David worked occasionally with the Galvanized Washboard Band during the late 1960s before moving to New Orleans. By 1988 he had a home and a steady job in Hawaii and was doing annual world tours with Sammy Rimington. Matt Finders was living in New York at the time, working with Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and many other big names, as well as occasional Sundays with the GJB. Eventually he moved to California, where he was visible for many years in the Tonight Show orchestra.
In the spring of 1991 we staged a two-night celebration for our 20th Millpond anniversary. On Saturday, April 20, we put on a combined concert with Yank Lawson & Bob Haggard’s “World’s Greatest Jazz Band” at New Haven’s Palace Theater with George Masso on trombone, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Howard Alden on guitar, John Bunch on piano, and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. Then on Sunday, April 21, Kenny & George join us at the Millpond along with Jane Campedelli and Bill Whitcraft, the pianist from the Heritage Jazz Band. Some of the material recorded that night is now available on CD, GJB-88-010.
By my count we played more than 1200 Sundays at the Millpond, and every one of them was memorable in one way or another. We never had the same guest twice in a row, and never played any tune more than once in a month. A new tune was tried almost every week; some stayed in our repertoire and others did not. We never used written arrangements, and we only rehearsed once. (That was early in the 1970s; after a few days no one could remember what we had worked out!) During the Millpond years we also performed at countless other events. Some of our most frequent guests are mentioned below. (My apologies to those whom I have neglected to mention.)
Skip Hughes was introduced to traditional jazz by David Paquette, his college classmate. After college he served in Vietnam as an Army paratrooper. After that he worked for many years as a counselor in New York’s prison system. By the 1980s he had become a regular member of Joe Hanlon’s Bearcats and a frequent guest with the GJB both as a trombonist and vocalist strongly influenced by Louis Prima. He improvised flawless vocal duets with Jane Campedelli on many occasions, as can be heard on several of our CDs. Although he endured far more than his share of bad luck in life, it never affected his ebullient nature and good cheer.
Dan Barrett began playing trombone in California at the age of eleven, and cornet shortly thereafter. Before long he was playing locally with the great New Orleans musicians Ed “Montudie” Garland, Alton Purnell, Mike DeLay, Joe Darensbourg, Nappy Lamare, and Barney Bigard, hearing about the “old days” first-hand. After moving to New York City in 1983 he spent a busy couple of years touring with and writing for the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, and then was a frequent guest at Eddie Condon’s jazz club and other Manhattan night-spots. Occasionally he managed to squeeze in a night at the Millpond with the GJB. Dan has played both valve and slide trombones for many motion pictures, including Cotton Club and Brighton Beach Memoirs, as well as Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You, and Bullets Over Broadway. If you look fast, you can see Dan on the screen in the latter film. (He’s featured a bit more in Wild Man Blues.) John S. Wilson (in the New York Times) described Dan as “a melodist, a colorist who knows how to use a plunger mute with taste, and a player Duke Ellington would have loved.” As a wonderful story-teller Dan also enjoys his status as an “Infrequent Correspondent” for The Syncopated Times.
Craig Grant began playing Dixieland while an undergraduate at Harvard, first at Boston’s Red Garter with banjoist Joel Schiavone, then at several of Joel’s ‘Your Father’s Mustache’ clubs in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. What followed was a 6-month gig in Boston with Bobby Hackett, Jackie Williams, Ronny Bill and Chuck Stewart. He began guesting with the GJB in 1973, and soon found himself working with Wild Bill, Doc Cheatham, Marian & Jimmy McPartland, Kenny Davern, Arvell Shaw, Herb Hall, Jack Lesberg, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Urbie Green. Craig is still a frequent guest with the GJB and is featured on several of our CDs.
Tom Artin has played trombone throughout the United States and Europe with world renowned jazz groups including the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble, the Louis Armstrong Almuni All-Stars, the Wild Bill Davison All-Stars, and the World’s Greatest Jazz Band Appearing at international festivals from California to Ireland and Switzerland, he was also the house trombonist at Eddie Condon’s jazz club in New York for nearly a decade. Tom has been a frequent guest with the GJB since the 1980s.
Art Baron joined the Duke Ellington orchestra in 1973 at the age of 23 during the last year Ellington led the band and was the last trombonist Ellington ever hired. Baron then lead The Duke’s Men, a band made up of Ellington band alumni. He has performed and/or recorded with Buddy Rich, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Illinois Jacquet, and many other stars, and became a frequent guest with the GJB early in the 1980s. He is on two of our CDs.
Jim Fryer began his professional career at the age of 16 in the Boston area. He later joined the Paradise City Jazz Band in Northampton, Massachusetts, and played many festivals with them. Since that time, Jim has toured internationally every year, played on dozens of recordings (including several of ours), made TV appearances, and played a variety of theaters and concert halls throughout New England. Jim first visited England in 1988 and has returned every year since then with Classic Jazz Epochs and Jeff Barnhart, and as a solo performer with the UK’s best musicians, including Humphrey Littleton, Kenny Baker and Digby Fairweather. Now living in Manhattan, Jim is one of the busiest brass men in the city. Jim toured with the Titan Hot Seven Jazz Band for several years, and is a regular member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks. Jim became a frequent guest trombonist with the GJB during the Millpond years, and continues to work with us to this day.
Spiegle Willcox (1903-1999) made the big time on trombone by the time he was twenty, working with Paul Whiteman’s Collegians. In 1925 he joined the California Ramblers briefly and then moved on to replace Tommy Dorsey in the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, working alongside Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Joe Venuti. In 1927 he decided to settle down and work in his father’s coal business. For the next 40 years he kept in shape by playing in local bands while raising a family and eventually running the business. In 1975 he was invited to play in a Goldkette reunion band along with Joe Venuti at Carnegie Hall. For the next 24 years he performed at festivals all over the world, including appearances with the GJB in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
Bob Price is a native of Stratford, Connecticut, now living in Florida. For his entire adult life Bob has earned his living by playing the banjo. He has also earned degrees in Philosophy, Music, and Far Eastern History. Although most of Bob’s playing has involved solo work and small groups, Bob is a master at working with a New Orleans-style ensemble. Bob is an artist representative for the Gibson Company, and can be heard on several of our CDs as a solid rhythm section man as well as a remarkable soloist.
Jeff Barnhart first appeared at the Millpond when he was about 12 years old. He asked politely if we would allow him to play the Maple Leaf rag during one of our breaks, and he played it pretty well. After a few years he became an occasional guest with the GJB on dates when Bill Sinclair was unavailable. In the summer of 1992 he was featured in our first concert at Music Mountain, Connecticut’s answer to Tanglewood. Today of course Jeff is featured at nearly every jazz or ragtime festival in the world. It was an honor and privilege to feature him again in our 27th annual concert at Music Mountain in the summer of 2018.
In December of 1995 our incredible run at the Millpond Tavern came to an end. Bud Thomas had passed away some years before, and although Helen had valiantly kept it going as long as she could, she needed to retire. Our final Sunday before closing was December 17, with Scott Whitfield on trombone. It was only his second date with the GJB. Although new owners did re-open the restaurant a couple of times, they were unable to keep it going. But as Fred wisely remarked, “When one door closes, another opens.” It turned out that he was right.